Super Rude Bear Resurrection Interview: Satisfying Investors, Refusing to Release Buggy Games & the Immense Stress of Game Dev
Super Rude Bear Resurrection is finally out on PS4 (check your local PSN), after what has felt like a wait time of forever. When I played it in late 2016, it was the third year in a row I’d played a new demo. Apart from Final Fantasy XIV, it was the only game I had seen — playable — at three consecutive Tokyo Game Shows. Guess which one has the bigger team and budget?
Now, as one with such a history with this game and, expectedly, its developer, ethical conflicts prevent me from telling you that this game which I love is awesome and also rad, so I can’t tell you that. I will, however tell you about an amusing interview…type conversation I had.
I approached SRBR‘s solo developer, Alex Rose and said, “You really look like hell.”
“Do I?” he asked in reply.
Alex told me about his intense schedule as the game’s one-and-only developer as well as the main marketer. He’d at times spend a whole month on the road promoting the game, which isn’t a problem in itself, but if you’ve ever traveled for work, you know that professional-level coding would be a hell of a thing to squeeze in on the side — especially when your laptop breaks mid trip, which happened to Alex.
The man worked himself to the doorstep of death; the mental and physical souvenirs of that trip were all over his face.
Turns out, game development takes a long time. Alex’s journey didn’t have any shortcuts, because, in his own words, “I’m a perfectionist.” That’s not to say he thinks his own game is perfect, but it became clear in our conversation that he’ll rigidly stick to his principles and standards.
I wanted to know more.
PSLS: And you did this whole game yourself?
Rose: I didn’t do the art or music. But everything else, yeah. It’s hard to fully go at it with marketing obligations and such, but when I’m full-on developing…I do, like, 110-hour weeks. People underestimate how much work it takes to make a game.
PSLS: They do, yeah.
Rose: The other thing is, I refuse to release a bad game. Like, something I know is [buggy]. I’d rather release a game infinitely late than [something broken].
PSLS: That said, when you walked into TGS 2014, did you imagine that we’d have sat there again at TGS 2016 talking about the same unreleased game?
Rose: No, not at all. I think my original estimate was about six months. But, see, after 2014 I hired an artist and the end product looks so much better. Do you remember how it looked?
PSLS: Eh, memories are fallible so I can’t say for sure. I don’t remember it looking bad, though.
Alex showed me some screenshots and early gameplay footage demonstrating the visual changes to start with, and a huge list of gameplay related changes he’d elaborate on later.
PSLS: That’s admirable, because I don’t think anyone would have been particularly mad at you for releasing it in that state because you’re a solo indie and you’d been working for years. I think many devs would be tempted to just say, “Welp, I’ve put in the work….”
Rose: If I had the budget and my investors wouldn’t be mad at me, I’d put another year into this. I’d add two more worlds. I was told, essentially, to cut it down to six worlds… and then I did a seventh. Plus I got some special Twitch stuff.
PSLS: *Nods* This does seem like a game fit for watching speedruns and that.
Rose: Yeah. So I added Practice Mode — that’s new since last year — and the menus are redone, and you can now do a Quick Load to instantly fire up any level. Marathon Mode is new; you can do a boss rush. You can turn off checkpoints, you can turn off corpses, you can make it so that every time you die you go back to Level 1.
Rose: We added Achievements and really hard trophies, there’s Steam Trading Cards with cool wallpapers and stuff, different localizations, we’ve got Twitch Mode where people can log in and vote on what happens to you.
PSLS: What kinds of things can the Twitch audience pick for you to deal with?
Rose: There’s things like missiles, lower gravity, make a skull appear, make your head explode, there’s tons of stuff they can do to ya. You can set good options, bad options, or all. If they enter certain emoticons like a Kreygasm in your chat, that can happen in your game; or they can do a Rude Bear spin on it and type beargasm for it to be Rude Bear’s face appearing around the corner like “Uuhhh”
*Rose and Hindman take turns demonstrating what it’s like to have an orgasm for what feels like an hour and a half, but a glance at the clock reveals was a mere 40 minutes.*
Rose: Don’t type that last bit.
PSLS: I won’t.
Rose: There are speedrunning tools to mess with the random number generation. Lots of adjustments you can make. Quick deaths, ghosts, leaderboards, that’s all new, added this last year. New title screen, opening and ending cutscenes….
PSLS: A lot of stuff.
Rose: Even more of it’s under-the-hood stuff that players won’t really notice. The last two months have been nothing but bug fixing.
PSLS: And when you say “players won’t notice” bug fixes you mean because they didn’t play older versions, right? The thing they’re not noticing is the work that’s been done.
PSLS: That’s a pretty common misconception about game development, too. People think the devs are on, like, an island vacation or something and that’s the reason for delays. From what I can tell working in this industry, that’s only true of Tetsuya Nomura.
Rose: Probably don’t wanna print that you said that.
PSLS: Yeah no, I’ll save my ass and edit that out.
Alex showed me a list of change notes that he’d made based on watching Twitch streams and YouTube plays of early versions of his games. He noticed rooms that were too big or small, levels that didn’t flow the way he’d intended, and a hundred other types of changes, all of which require time and careful attention. Fuck. Game dev is no picnic. Unless you’re Tetsuya Nomura, from what I understand? I feel like I read that somewhere.
Something Alex just noticed in 2016 was a few people at shows such as TGS walking the wrong way in a level. In an RPG, that might be fine, but it’s not what you want players to do very much in a platformer whose speed, flow, and tight controls are a big part of the fun. To limit this, he adjusted the camera so that every coffin pans the camera just slightly so, in the direction Rude Bear needs to go.
Rose: I don’t like the modern thing where people put out a game and then patch it later. I absolutely refuse to rely on that model.
PSLS: A lot of players don’t like that either.
Alex did note, however, that he’s still somewhat bound to the will of investors. Nonetheless, he’d been doing everything in his power to avoid or limit the need for patches.
Rose: I’ve forgotten where I was.
Rose: Oh yeah. I liked cartridge games, you know?
PSLS: Back in the motherfuckin’ day.
Rose: There were some exceptions, but usually you got your game and that was it. Like, I’m not refusing to do patches. If there are big bugs, I’ll get in there and fix them, but once this is out, I want to move on.
I mean… I could see myself — if this game does really well — doing another world or something for DLC, but if it doesn’t do so well, that’s fine, I’m on to the next game. This isn’t something I want to be adding DLC to for years and years. I’ve already worked on it for three years, pretty much alone, and that’s enough.
PSLS: Were you thinking of doing a physical version of Super Rude Bear Resurrection?
Rose: People tell me “Alex, no, don’t do it,” but people tell me that about everything. They told me not to go without a publisher, too. I kind of like, do a “fuck you” to everyone any time I’m told to not do something.
PSLS: My moms would tell you that I was the same way.
Rose: Yeah maybe don’t print that I said exactly “fuck you” though.
PSLS: Got it.
It turns out, however, that the advice probably comes from the cost of a physical release.
Rose: I’d love to do a physical release, but I’d have to go through, for example, the Brazilian ratings board, which costs money, and printing the discs and that. It adds up. The trendy thing is to get a publisher to do your discs for you, but I feel like I’m not in a strong negotiating position, so I’d get a shitty deal. I mean I’d get a “bad” deal. Can I say “shitty?”
PSLS: Have you read anything I’ve written before?
Rose: The thing about the negotiating and stuff is, I don’t want to be taken advantage of. But here’s the other thing: if I didn’t believe in the game, the thing to do would be sign a disc deal, get my game in a shop and be like “Hey! It may not be that good, but I got my game on the shelves and I made a bit of money off it!”
But I’d rather wait until it’s out, see if it does alright, see if people like it, and then if so, go retail all over, on my own with my own money. I might consider a PlayStation Plus deal, but that’s the only “safe money” I’d take, I think. I’d rather go with risky money.
PSLS: That’s your new nickname. Alex “Risky Money” Rose.
Rose: Worst case scenario, I go bankrupt, right?
PSLS: Speaking of which, during these three years I’ve seen this being developed… if you’re always either putting in 110-hour weeks of programming or traveling internationally to do business for this thing, what the heck do you do for income this whole time?
Rose: So, year one, I was self-funded.
PSLS: Did you work at least part time to pay the bills, like at Burger King or something? Wait do you have Burger King in England? Please tell me it’s called “The Burger King of England.”
Rose: We have Burger King, but I was doing client work. Like, making other people’s Android games, which I did not enjoy, but had to do. After the first year, I got funded by Creative England in cooperation with Sony. I got an offer from Mastertronic. I rejected that, and they went bankrupt later.
PSLS: Whoa… that’s a little weird. What would’ve happened if you’d taken it?
Rose: It actually might’ve been good.
PSLS: Like grabbing cargo off a sinking ship?
Rose: Yeah kind of. My friends signed with them and released their game on Steam, but then [since Mastertronic went bankrupt], they got the rights back to their game. So they ended up making money on that, but I don’t think [Super Rude Bear Resurrection] would’ve been out in time, it would’ve actually screwed me. They also probably would’ve made me ship an inferior game because they wanted it out.
Another publisher quoted me six months and I told them I probably couldn’t do that time, and they were like “Well you need to get out in time for the Steam summer sale,” and I was like, “What about near the end of the year, in time for the Steam winter sale?” and the person was like “No offense, but we’ve tried to release (tired old franchise) during that time, and if that doesn’t sell, your game isn’t gonna sell either.”
Some other publishers weren’t interested after my first TGS, then I used the money from Creative England to hire a new artist, and suddenly I got a table full of offers.
PSLS: Ah haaaa….
*Both nod knowingly*
PSLS: So we get into this loop where people complain about prioritizing graphics, but sadly, that’s how you make back your investment.
Rose: Yeah. And people who know me know that I’m a gameplay-first guy. And to be fair, the better graphics and art make the game more fun in a certain way. You can see the background and foreground better.
PSLS: Simple as that. And from the publishers’ perspective, that’s what will sell. A lot of customers see something, look at it for 30 seconds, and click the Buy button.
Rose: That’s how games go now. I… I weep for the game devs like me, in the future, because they’re gonna be without a job.
PSLS: Gonna be without a chance.
Rose: Back in the day, I did physics. And if I weren’t doing this, I’d be in a giant underground tunnel in Switzerland with a bunch of people with no social skills. Like that’s no real life.
PSLS: *Laughs* This became a really detailed alternate life story
Rose: But really, fuck that. This lets me do something… the thing is, I… OK, this is a really big detour.
PSLS: Whatever. This is what I’m going for.
Rose: There was a time when my mum was talking to someone, and she was like “Alex is now doing this game thing. Unfortunately it seems like he’s pretty good at it. I wish he’d just do something I understand.”
I was going to work in particle physics, I don’t get why my she thought she would understand Monte Carlo data analysis more than the concept of making video games.
It’s patently ridiculous that like, anybody can look at what I do and say, “Oh here’s Alex. He makes video games about a bear.” “Parents just don’t understand!” right?
Alex talked about how it can be hard for family members to take his work seriously if they understand neither gaming nor coding nor physics, all of which led to his being able to make Super Rude Bear Resurrection. Even though he’s happy in his work, some family members wish he’d chosen a more vocational job.
PSLS: Can I ask real quick how old you are?
PSLS: Oh, so, you were working on this when you were like, still in university. Or did you just skip out?
Rose: I did both. I’m not Zuckerberg. But I did Rude Bear right at the end of uni and won a jam with it. And everyone was like “You should do something with this,” so I was like, “Alright.” So I’ve been working on it since April, 2014.
Oh but yeah, physics and jobs and shit. I can sit in a room and make particles fire at each other and that makes people happy, but there’s no creative expression in that. With game development, I can get more out of it. I can even get tastes of all walks of life if I want to.
During all of this, Alex was playing so perfectly despite talking in such detail about his private life, I thought what I’d been seeing on the TV was a demo loop or a gameplay trailer and he was just holding the controller, not actually controlling anything.
PSLS: *Looking at gameplay screen* Wait, you’re not playing this right now, are you?
Rose: I am.
PSLS: Holy shit. You like, took a hand off the controller so casually while you’re talking about particles and Swiss mines, that I was like “Oh, this is a video.”
Rose: *Laughs* But it’s strange because some people will say, “Oh that’s cool! You must be living your dreams!” and I’m like “Yep, I eat a lot of instant noodles.”
PSLS: Is that currently the situation? Is Alex OK?
Rose: Alex isn’t OK, really. Like I’m young enough to… I mean, my age is starting to show. I’m starting to become aware that I’m not invincible. If this game doesn’t do well, the next game is actually gonna hurt my health, because I already feel this one hurting my health. Alex isn’t OK. Alex really needs someone to…to not let me do this.
The things is, I shouldn’t say this, but I’m gonna–
PSLS: Nah, you should always say what you’re thinking.
Rose: You’ve got investors, right? Obviously it’s their job to make sure the game comes out on time. For the last six months, I worked unpaid — like 110-hour weeks. Like… okay, maybe this is a big assumption, but I’m pretty sure a lot of people never worked that hard in their lives. And yet, they’re like “Well can you just do it faster?” And I physically can not. I cannot do it faster.
PSLS: Do they think you’d never thought of that before?
Rose: I’m developing as fast as I can, to the point where it’s affecting my health very negatively.
PSLS: You should walk into a meeting like, “Guys, I’m taking this a new direction! I’m gonna do it — stay with me on this — faster. Henry knows what I’m talkin’ about.”
Rose: Right? In my source code, I’ve got notes and names for the updates, and I’ve got some that are “Glandular Update 1. Glandular Update 2.” I got glandular fever in December and just sort of kept going anyway. My doctor told me not to and I’m alright now, but since then I’ve felt weak. Physically drained.
And at [events such as TGS, E3, PSX, and so on] it sounds weird but sometimes you have to go out and socialize. To keep connections and that. You’ve gotta go all that stuff, really. You need other people. At least I hope so. I hope all this has been worth it.
But even if this game fails, I’m stuck on this path now. The amount of resources I have now, from being “in the industry” for a while is high enough that I should be able to succeed.
But the thing is, like, I know so many indies who…I know their game sucks but I’m not gonna tell ’em because like, it’s their baby. And I wonder like, “Is that me [too]?”
PSLS: It sounds like you’re describing my job, when I’m on the show floor.
Rose: Yeah sometimes, haha. But you know, I think [Super Rude Bear Resurrection] is good, but like, what if the joke’s on me? I’ll just have to hope the next one’s better. It’s a strange feeling because I really believe it is good.
PSLS: Well let me tell you about my tactical RPG with anime-style graphics for iPad. I’ll bet you’ve never heard of one of those… (referring to the dozen or so at every game show).
Rose: Right. And here I am making an indie platformer. You know?
PSLS: I don’t usually like to sit down with a developer and fall into the “Your game is so awesome” thing, but since it came up — since our conversation has gone that way — I’ll say that I keep coming back and exploring this game because it does have something markedly better than, let’s say, 90% of what I see at trade shows. I cover BitSummit and Tokyo Game Show and there’s a lot of platformers, but there’s a reason to remember this one, and that’s important.
There was a game at last year’s BitSummit where you die and use your corpses — not in the same way, but it’s there — and I said “It’s…it’s RudeBearlike.” I told my wife, “There are Roguelikes and now there’s a RudeBearlike.” I’d see that as a very positive sign.
Rose: That does feel good to hear. One I wanted as a back-of-the-box quote was, “I don’t want to call it the second coming of Meat Boy…it’s fuckin’ Rude Bear, man!” It’s fuckin’ Rude Bear. I know, I made it, so take this as you will, but it’s pretty addictive. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on it, not just for testing and development.
PSLS: I can, uh, tell you’re pretty experienced.
Rose: I liked Meat Boy and I feel like nothing’s filled that gap for a while. It’s been six years since Meat Boy. And what have you seen that’s like it?
PSLS: Can’t say I have.
Rose: And I know there’s a lot of people who don’t give a damn about the genre, but this is like a love letter to the people who do give a damn about the genre.
PSLS: Eh, the thing about genre is tricky. They go in and out, and the mass market thinks certain genres are “dead” or “dying,” but those comments usually come from what the AAA studios are publishing.
But that’s why things like Yooka-Laylee and Bloodstained get all kinds of interest and crowdfunding support. It’s not that the players’ hunger ever went away. It’s just that bigger studios and their focus groups decided not to give them options.
I wouldn’t sit around worrying about whether people like the genre or not. People like any genre when there’s a good game in it. And in this case, we’re talking about the genre that includes Super Mario Bros.
Rose: Yeah I guess it’s nice that AAA aren’t competing with me. Well, except that some people “Buy X indie games per year” and so in a way, I’m competing against all indie games.
PSLS: Does that bother you, the connotation the word “indie” gets? When it sometimes automatically means lower quality or inferior? The mentality that an indie game, no matter how fun, should be cheaper by default?
Rose: To be fair, some people devalue “indie” by making shit games. There’s too many of us, and there’s too many of us making shit games. That’s a problem. Like on Steam, it’s just like… when someone makes a piece-of-shit $1 Steam game, and then you try to charge a reasonable price for your game, people say, “Well I can go buy this other game for only $1.”
I shouldn’t use Minecraft as an example but… maybe No Man’s Sky. No Man’s Sky showed that if you throw enough money at marketing, you can make people buy an indie game.
Really, say Rayman or something. What’s so different about Rayman and an indie game?
PSLS: You mean in the sense that you’re running, jumping, dodging stuff, and trying not to fall down holes?
Rose: A lot of the new ones feel more like runners than platformers to me. I love the old ones, but not the new ones as much. Are there good new ones?
PSLS: I played a lot of Rayman Origins on PS3 with my wife and that was really fun. We play two-player and it’s nice.
Rose: I can’t talk too much because I don’t own them so… but I played, I think it was Legends and wasn’t a fan.
So, I remembered the other thing I was gonna say before — we were talking about graphics right?
Rose: So I basically finally got funding because the game got better graphics, right? But initially Team 17 wouldn’t sign me because the game didn’t “look good enough.” And I was like, “But the money would be for better graphics.”
PSLS: …Which would have solved their problem. So it’s a cycle like that. Can’t get publishing without good graphics, damn hard to afford good graphics without a publisher.
Rose: Yeah, I was so lucky that Creative England helped fund me.
One problem is, for example, Unreal has moved to this blueprint system. It’s becoming easier and easier for people to make games. It’s coming to the point where an artist can make a game on their own, but a programmer can’t. I don’t think you could release VVVVV anymore.
It did spectacularly well and it’s a fantastic game, but it’s got very programmer-y pixel art (which might not be as well-received today).
PSLS: Cave Story comes to mind.
Rose: Yeah. I think I got in just at the right time. I reckon games are the new canvas. Like, as development becomes less program-based, you’ll see more artists making games.
PSLS: And it’s not that that’s a bad thing in itself….
Rose: But it’s sad for me because the reason Super Rude Bear Resurrection is good is not because it looks pretty. I love my artists, I love my artists; but I could play this game with boxes on skin and still have fun.
Like sometimes when I do jam games… I did one where I made Rude Bear Recreation, and the artist I had bailed on me. So for a while I had no graphics. All of its graphics were added in the last half-hour of the jam. And it got the highest-rated “Fun Factor” of any jam game I’ve made. I came in 8th place for Fun out of like 2,700 entries or something like that.
But that was just a thing like… it was Rude Square. So, see, I could play SRBR with a square and enjoy it. But I’m forced to throw lots of money into making the game look good because that’s what publishers want. I think in the future people are gonna go for graphics first.
Like even my brother, he’s a publisher, right? And even he was showing me this one thing like, “Look at this, Alex. Looks pretty good doesn’t it?” And I said, “Yeah but what’s it like?” and he just shrugged like “Iunno.”
And I’m like, “That’s what you’ve become!” And it hurts.
You can have the prettiest game in the world, but if that takes priority over programming, you’re gonna end up with a lot of very samey games that just look good.
And I’m not a fan of game designers. Like I think that’s a fake job.
Rose: Don’t quote me on that.
PSLS: Oh I won’t.
Rose: I just think the programmers should be the designers. Like sometimes I see a feature and I think it’d be cool “Oh they might do this or do that with it,” and I can say that because I’m a mathematician and a programmer. I know what can be done to make those changes. But some designers don’t know how to do that, they think they can just slide a bar or something and say it’s good enough.
If that’s me I’m thinking like, oh maybe I need to multiply that by another cos function?
PSLS: So your problem is more when designers don’t also know how to program?
Rose: Yeah, and I disagree with that. Maybe it’s different in triple-A games; I don’t know how triple-A games work.
PSLS: Don’t worry, I don’t either.
Rose: If a designer doesn’t know anything about programming, they’re not going to be as good. They’re not going to understand the little things that can make gameplay better. People tell me I’m a good designer and I don’t know if that’s true, heh.
PSLS: So like, does Hideo Kojima get in there and code?
Rose: Oh I have no idea.
PSLS: Cause I know he’s credited as a designer, but in his case, it’s also director, producer, writer, and other stuff. Plus he’s kind of a genius, so….
Rose: I know that Iwata did.
PSLS: Iwata was The Friggin’ Man.
Rose: Like they couldn’t fit both Johto and Kanto into Pokemon Gold and Silver, just Johto. But by the end of the day they could fit Kanto in, too, and he did it like it was just nothing.
PSLS: And there are dozens of stories like that, about him.
Rose: But anyway, I wouldn’t mind outsourcing my code to other people, because like, I don’t wanna kill myself. But I want to be able to work on multiple projects at once, if I do want to kill myself. It’s better than doing UI. Fuck that. The problem is, I always wanna do my own character controllers. I don’t trust someone else to do that.
Like I’ve played three good recent platformers. I play some platformers and I’m like “Why? Why do people get this?” Every Ludum Dare there’s a bunch of platformers and they all suck.
PSLS: To be fair, Ludum Dare games are made in a weekend….
Rose: Yeah. To be fair. I see people and like “This is a velocity-based character controller, man. What’re you doing with your life? Use forces, man.” Like I played a game that has a hop and a short hop as different buttons. And I wonder, is that because you didn’t know how to make it so that if you hold down the button for longer, it jumps farther? Or like, sticking people to walls instead of adding a grace period and stuff.
Like people who come from Meat Boy might have a tough time because (in that game) you pull off the wall and then you’re on and off again. Something that people do in Meat Boy that they get wrong in this is that… Meat Boy sticks to walls, right? So they don’t realize that they can just pull away from the wall. So they always try to jump away, and then they jump into spikes.
But in Rude Bear, you can just pull away. There’s a grace period on the jumps — like a split second where you can jump in mid air. I’m not sure why it’s that way, like maybe they figured raw meat’s kinda sticky so the character should be that way?
PSLS: Maybe they just played and decided they didn’t need it?
Rose: Right, maybe. *Whispers* But I think that’s inferior. Don’t quote me on that.
PSLS: Oh I won’t.
Rose: Not the whole game — the game’s great. Just that one thing. And don’t quote me on that.
PSLS: Not a chance.
Super Rude Bear Resurrection was just recently released on the PlayStation Network. We thank Alex Rose for his time, his insights, and his depleted health. You can follow Alex Rose on Twitter here just as long as you remember that Heath Hindman did not actually 100% tell you to do so, just sort of left that on the table.